Perris Jones wins starting running back job for opener vs. Richmond

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Perris Jones (Photo: UVA Athletics)

Tony Elliott said a couple weeks ago in training camp that if he had to play a game that day, he would start Perris Jones at running back.

Virginia plays its first game this coming Saturday against visiting Richmond, and nothing has changed. Jones will start against the Spiders.

“Perris will start and then Mike [Hollins] will be the next guy up,” Elliott said Tuesday afternoon at his first game-week press conference as UVA’s head coach.

Most fans expected Hollins, a junior from Baton Rouge, La., would win the job over Jones, a fifth-year from Alexandria’s Episcopal High School. Hollins has some experience as a backup to former starter Wayne Taulapapa, who transferred to Washington, while Jones has 12 career yards rushing, all coming on three attempts in 2020-21. Eight of those yards came on one carry.

“I love Mike and we’re challenging Mike,” Elliott said. “I just believe Mike has got another gear that we can get him to go to, and if he’ll push to that gear, then he has a chance to get really good and reach his potential.”

Hollins is 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, while Jones is 5-8, 180. Jones finished his high school career with more than 5,000 yards rushing, and at Bishop Ireton, prior to moving to Episcopal, he set the school’s single-season, all-purpose yards record with more than 2,500.

“Perris is a guy that’s always done everything you asked him to do, and his confidence is at an all-time high,” Elliott said. “He’s put in the work for this moment and he just took advantage of his opportunities.”

Elliott said that Jones was the most consistent UVA running back throughout training camp.

“Not that Mike was bad, but I just think – we all feel like Mike has an extra gear,” Elliott said. “You’re going to have to earn it. I mean, you’re going to earn the right to run out there first. Mike will be in there and I hope that it doesn’t become like a situation where he’s [just] a gamer. We need to earn trust in practice, not just in the game.”

In addition, UVA has Miami transfer Cody Brown, who transferred after spring ball, and is trying to learn the system. The Cavaliers also have Xavier Brown, an impressive freshman from Lexington, Ky., at the tailback spot, along with Ronnie Walker Jr., a former Indiana transfer who missed most of the spring and all of fall camp recuperating from a leg injury. Walker has rejoined the team, but is not scheduled to play in the opener.

The Cavaliers lost sophomore running back Amaad Foston for the season with a torn ACL suffered in training camp.